Poor sleep quality increases suicide risk for older adults, study finds

August 13, 2014
Credit: xiaphias/Wikipedia

Older adults suffering from sleep disturbances are more likely to die by suicide than well-rested adults, according to a study led by a researcher at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

"This is important because are highly treatable, yet arguably less stigmatizing than many other risk factors," said Rebecca Bernert, PhD, lead author of the study. Bernert is an instructor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of the Suicide Prevention Research Laboratory at Stanford.

The study will be published Aug. 13 in JAMA Psychiatry.

Bernert said older adults have disproportionately higher rates of suicide risk compared to other age groups, making suicide prevention in elderly populations a pressing public health challenge.

Using data from an epidemiological study of 14,456 adults aged 65 and older, Bernert and her colleagues compared the sleep quality of 20 who died by suicide with the sleep patterns of 400 similar individuals over a 10-year period.

They found that participants reporting poor sleep had a 1.4 times greater chance of death by suicide within a 10-year period than participants who reported sleeping well.

The study confirmed the relationship between depression and suicide risk, while also assessing poor sleep as an . "Our findings suggest that poor sleep quality may serve as a stand-alone risk factor for late-life suicide," Bernert said.

Surprisingly, the study found that, when comparing the two risk factors, poor sleep predicted risk better than depressive symptoms. The combination of and depressed mood was the strongest predictor of suicide risk.

"Suicide is the outcome of multiple, often interacting biological, psychological and social ," Bernert said. "Disturbed sleep stands apart as a risk factor and warning sign in that it may be undone, which highlights its importance as a screening tool and potential treatment target in suicide prevention.

"Suicide is preventable," she added. "Yet interventions for are alarmingly scarce."

Bernert has two studies now underway testing the effectiveness of an insomnia treatment for the prevention of depression and suicidal behaviors.

Most of the study's suicide decedents were white men, which reflects a group at heightened risk for suicide in the general population, Bernert said, noting that additional research is needed to see if the correlation between disturbed sleep and extends to women, minorities and younger adults or teenagers.

Bernert recommended organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) as resources for people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.

Explore further: Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia can reduce suicidal ideation

More information: JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 13, 2014. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1126. archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/artic … psychiatry.2014.1126

Related Stories

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia can reduce suicidal ideation

June 14, 2011
Treating sleep problems with cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia can reduce suicidal ideation, suggests a research abstract that will be presented Tuesday, June 14, in Minneapolis, Minn., at SLEEP 2011, the 25th Anniversary ...

More sleep may decrease the risk of suicide in people with insomnia

May 15, 2013
A new study found a relationship between sleep duration and suicidal thoughts in people with insomnia.

Study finds that suicides are far more likely to occur after midnight

June 2, 2014
A new study provides novel evidence suggesting that suicides are far more likely to occur between midnight and 4 a.m. than during the daytime or evening.

Recommended for you

Depression changes structure of the brain, study suggests

July 21, 2017
Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.

Many kinds of happiness promote better health, study finds

July 21, 2017
A new study links the capacity to feel a variety of upbeat emotions to better health.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.